As Vitor Belfort’s eyes rolled back into his head as he fell to the canvas after eating a three-punch combination, it put paid to any argument that his bout with Kelvin Gastelum would be a competitive match up. This was a UFC equivalent of an early 90’s WWE squash match. Despite me shouting at the TV for him not to get back up (obviously it was too noisy in the stadium and Belfort’s team didn’t hear me in the UK), somehow ‘The Phenom’ got back up, but it would only be another 90 seconds until he was dropped again and another legend of the sport had well and truly outstayed his welcome.
Say what you will about Vitor Belfort, and make no mistake there is a lot of controversy that comes along with it, one thing holds true, bar Anderson Silva, BJ Penn and Fedor Emelianenko he is one of the last ‘originals’ still active in the sport.
Back in 90’s from where I am originally from in Scotland it was very difficult to get hold of up to date MMA news or access to live events. VHS recordings (remember these kids?) were the only way to watch anything MMA related. I used to buy videos over in the US when my family made our annual holiday to Florida. Every store in the shopping malls of ‘The Sunshine State’ had the same respect to the sport as one another, tucking all MMA videos beside soft porn titles such as ‘Flesh Gordon’ and countless ‘Emmanuel’ films (making the sport more like the ugly stepchild, huddled out of sight in the inner most darkened corner of the room).
I remember spotting UFC 12 ‘Judgement Day’ with its front cover adorned in flames with the old-school logo in bold back in late 1998, a good 18 months AFTER Vitor had competed in the tournament. This was my first true experience of MMA, witnessing a young Vitor Belfort tear through Tra Telligman and then going on to win the Heavyweight tournament that very same night. I was struck by the sheer ferocity of Belfort. He was jacked, scary and intense, like a real-life ‘Ultimate Warrior’ who used his fists instead of a ‘gorilla-press slam’.
Despite him building an impressive resume there will always be an asterisk attached to his name, and rightly so. He has faced numerous allegations with steroids and other PED’s. But it would be surprising should his name not be mentioned for this years’ ‘Hall of Fame’ ceremony at ‘International Fight Week’. He has seen it all in his 20-year career and the landscape in the UFC is very different to what it was like when he made his debut at 19. From Reebok kits to USADA testing, through to mainstream public interest, this is not the UFC a young Vitor Belfort entered into. So too have the skillsets which many new fighters bring to the table, emphasised in abundance in last night’s destruction.
Like BJ Penn before him, Vitor was given a harsh lesson on what it is like to pit a war-torn veteran and have him take on a young, hungry lion. It wasn’t pretty to watch, but should be seen as an example of what not to do by the likes of Jon Jones, Conor McGregor and Joanna Jedrzejczyk – don’t be beaten by father time, get out sooner rather than later.
It is a sad fact of life in combat sports that there are too few happy endings, history is littered with fighters who went on too long and paid the consequences. Ali through to Tyson, Liddell through to Penn, the majority of our heroes tend to have the door closed on their careers with bad endings. Which is why someone like Vitor Belfort should close out this chapter of his life with a final match with Anderson Silva and hopefully these 2 greats of the sport could ride of into the sun together and the last remaining superstars of MMA are given the opportunity to have a perfect ending in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, the spiritual home of MMA.
image credit – Ryan Loco